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Good Stress or Bad Stress, what is in your body?

A stressful situation, whether emotional or psychological triggers a cascade of stress hormones that produces a near-instantaneous sequence of physiological changes, the heart pounds faster, breathing quickens, muscles tense, and sweat starts rolling down the forehead. Such reactions AKA acute stress or "fight-or-flight" response, evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling mammals (like us) to react quickly to a life-threatening situation. So, we need those precious and powerful fight-or-flight hormones either to slam on the brakes to avoid a potentially serious car accident or when we are confronted with that “needed-it-yesterday deadline”.

The upside of stress I have never heard anyone say, "I'm really feeling stressed, isn't that awesome?". We all understand stress as being something bad, but did you know that there’s “good stress” and “bad stress”? In fact, the “good stress”, which psychologists refer as “eustress”, is vital for our lives, without it life would be a pretty dull existence. The reality is that good stressors cause a burst of excitement and a pleasant rush of adrenaline in our bodies - it’s that motivation we need to get up at 3 a.m. on a Black Friday to get that so much desired TV, or the thrill of embarking on our dream trip, it’s also that rush of enthusiasm when we’re gun for a promotion, or going on a first date. Eustress is stimulating and helps us perform tasks more efficiently by providing a sense of accomplishment. There are many triggers for this good stress, and it keeps us feeling active and thrilled about life.

The downside of stress

The type of stress we really have to worry about is the “bad stress”, which psychologists refer as “distress”. When experiencing distress, we feel constantly under pressure, helpless, and unhappy - filled with anxiety about everything that could

go wrong. That same rush of adrenaline that once made us feel excited and full of life is now perceived as unpleasant, creating an internal state of negative feelings, which are unwelcome, uncomfortable, and exceeds our capacity of coping or finding a way out. This particular type of stress, if let unharnessed for a prolonged period of time, can be extremely detrimental to your health simply because our bodies aren't designed for long term stress arousal – chronic stress. Our bodies will give off signals when healthy tension has tipped over into bad stress and we have to pay attention to them: headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain, upset stomach, chest pains, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”, lack of concentration, jitters, mental fogginess, irritability, and the increased frequency of colds and autoimmune diseases signaling an overwhelmed immune system.

Dealing with stress is part of our modern, hectic, fast-paced lifestyle. But if you are dedicated to building a stress reducing habit, it can be done.

Stress is, after all, a state of the mind that is caused by outside influences You can't change the external pressures, but you can work on the way you react to these pressures.

Start by identifying your stress signs, what do you do when stress is starting to build up? I tend to grind my teeth. By identifying your stress indicators, you can take actions to reduce the level of stress hormones before they take over your system. Here are some strategies:

  • Drink tea instead of caffeine. Chamomile tea helps to calm the nerves and relax. Give yourself a moment of worry-free during your hectic day by just stopping and have a nice cup of tea.

  • Get regular exercise (I recommend yoga). Being overloaded with work makes it is easy to assume that you simply don't have the time to exercise. It is seemingly counter-intuitive, but allotting some time for regular exercise actually reduces stress, which will enable you better to handle stressful situations.

  • Avoid processed food: Foods rich in refined sugars and white flour are known to skyrocket insulin levels and release the stress hormone. Junk food, fried foods, artificial sweeteners and foods with lots of preservatives must stay out of your menu.

  • Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, GETTING A MASSAGE or mindful meditation (take a look at this Harvard Health article about mindful meditation).

  • Cultivate good sleep habits. It is a vicious cycle, it’s difficult to get a good night’s sleep if you are stressed and it is difficult not to be stressed if you do not get a good night’s sleep. Start cultivating good sleep habits (read this Harvard Health article about sleep hygiene)

  • Meet with your friends and laugh! When it comes to stress, a little relaxation, laughter and fun with friends can work wonders to revert that catastrophic situation in your mind to something totally manageable.

  • Take some time to do something you enjoy, a hobby, some reading, a comedy show, we all need some time to unwind and reduce the levels of stress.

The goal isn't an absence of stress - it's an unavoidable reality – the goal is teaching ourselves to manage stress for our sake and peace of mind. So, what’s in your body?

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